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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

African brands adapting to global standard


One of the most cherished parts of a career with an international news channel is the time spent travelling. While visits to different countries are often frustratingly short, after a while you get an acute sense of how a place is developing. 
As the years go by and one revisits such destinations again, certain changes catch your eye, and you find yourself mentally tallying the signs that a country has advanced.  Advancements such as a sleek new airport terminal or a pedestrian walkway where the unmade road use to be, the steady electricity power during a stay at a hotel and the new store at a junction where once a fruit stall stood.  Also noted are the numbers of tablets being used in meetings and the appearance of the latest smartphones in people’s hands.

But keeping tabs on these signs doesn’t always need a multiple visa entry stamp in your passport. When it comes to Africa, one of the most striking changes observed after a decade of working in the continent is in its advertising. Some of the smartest brands and the most eye-catching commercials on air are African, and they are vigorously making names for themselves beyond Africa.

The context to this change is important.  In a world still full of uncertainty following the global financial crunch, Africa stands out as a symbol of relatively unencumbered economic progress. While much of Europe struggles under the weight of austerity measures, America eyes a slow recovery with caution, and Asia sees its meteoric growth cool, the African continent’s prospects continue to look bright.

African countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world, matching their counterparts in Asia.  Of course, everybody talks about the continent having one of the world’s fastest-growing consumer classes as well as the increasing foreign investment from Europe and Asia.  But recently, it is the reports that intra-African investment is rising by more than 30% per year that have added to this picture of growth.

Another noticeable fact about Africa is their greater focus on quality – an appetite for superior products and services and from businesses looking to provide them.  At an industrial level, examples of this search for quality are also emerging on the continent, with prominent companies that have built their success on identifying Africa’s growing need for quality materials, and delivering them, coming to the fore.

The next big question must surely be when an African brand will go head to head with the major players in the rest of the world.  African brands are conspicuous by their minimal presence in Millward Brown’s BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands; but the signs are that, the African business landscape is ripe for this to change.  The African financial and communications sectors, for example, are establishing themselves as formidable players.

For instance, brands such as MTN who was named as the most valued brand in Africa, in the Brand Africa 100 awards not too long ago, is already knocking on the door of the global arena, while Globacom’s current ad campaign focuses on the kind of mobile services that typify the ways in which Africa is ahead, of many other markets in communications technology.  Whereas, the likes of Zenith Bank, a long-term sponsor of one of CNN’s flagship African programmes is part of a financial sector that, given the travails of so many American and European players is meeting up to its international rivals.

Indeed, looking to Europe there are other prime examples of the ways in which a new kind of relationship is emerging between Africa and other continents.  Portugal’s parlous financial state saw Angola step in as a potential saviour last year; a surprise to Europeans perhaps, but with Portugal’s economy contracting at -3.2%, while its former colony grows at 6.8%, it should not have come as a shock.  Meanwhile the on-going aftermath of Greek austerity has seen a new wave of migrant workers seeking jobs in South Africa.

Africa is, of course, not without its problems and challenges, but its place in the global economy has been changing for a long time and there is a sense that we are reaching a tipping point.  With the rest of the world still going through uncertainty, now, more than ever, is the time for the continent’s major players to rise to the top.  If African brands’ products, ingenuity and advertising are anything to go by, we may not have to wait too much longer.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D
*Contributed by Celine DeCarlo, CNN International, her pix insert.

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